March 22, 2006 (BULLETIN) By GENALYN D. KABILING - President Arroyo now regrets meeting with militant groups during the months leading to the second EDSA revolt in 2001, Malacañang said yesterday.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said that then Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had met with leftists and militant leaders in 2000 but the meeting was not about hatching a plot to overthrow the Estrada government a year later.

"President Arroyo does not deny having met with leaders of various political persuasions in the run up to EDSA Dos. She was the constitutional successor at a time when President Estrada was threatened by massive people power and she had to try to consolidate the nation at a time of grave national necessity, which she did," Bunye said in a statement.

Following the discovery of the alleged leftist-rightist conspiracy to oust her last month, the President expressed disappointment with militant groups whose real motives she now questions, said Bunye.

"She regrets having met with militant leaders knowing now that they started to plot against her administration from day one since its inception, and they were never serious for peace," he said.

Bunye said the President had launched peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front (NDF) in a bid to reconcile with the revolutionary left, but to no avail.

"Now the tide has completely changed and the government is locked in a battle against the CPP- NPA and its front organizations that have never ceased in their bid to overthrow our democratic system by force," he said.

Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo earlier said Mrs. Arroyo conspired with leftists and other militant groups as early as 2000 to oust then President Estrada.

Ocampo, one of the five party-list lawmakers charged with rebellion who are under the protective custody of the House of Representatives, said they tackled the communist movement’s position on reforms that must be made should Arroyo take over the presidency after Estrada.

Presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor rejected Ocampo’s claims that the President and her supporters were guilty of rebellion when they allegedly conspired to topple Estrada via a popular revolt in January 2001.

In an interview, Defensor said the meetings were made within the "democratic space" during the political situation in 2000. "It was a legal move by the President alongside many civil society organizations, different from the armed takeover that was being hatched by the Left or Right," he said.

Photos of Satur prove nothing -- Arroyo allies

Administration allies in Congress yesterday downplayed the efforts by partylist representatives to link President Arroyo to the ouster of then President Joseph Estrada, saying the pictures they showed merely proved that the President had met with leftist leaders as part as her duties as the then duly elected vice president.

Representatives Antonio Cuenco (Lakas, Cebu City) and Mauricio Domogan (Lakas, Baguio City) said the photos presented by Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo showing the President in a meeting with leftists at the height of protests calling for Estrada’s ouster do not prove their conspiracy story.

"Satur himself said the meeting was to formulate a reform agenda to be implemented in case Erap is removed from office. That doesn’t spell conspiracy but tells about a vice president doing her duty to consult with all sectors for any eventuality," Cuenco said.

Domogan said there was no basis for the party-list solons, in defending themselves against charges of rebellion, to draw a parallel between what the President did before and what the leftists are doing now to her administration.

In the case of the Batasan 5, Domogan said, there was evidence to show a conspiracy to topple the government.

"The transcript of the computer flash disk confiscated from the van used by Lt. Lawrence San Juan when he was arrested details the connivance between the Reds and Magdalo rebels," Domogan said.

GMA: ‘I’ve got better things to do’ MALAYA March 22, 2006

PRESS Secretary Ignacio Bunye yesterday said that while President Arroyo is the honorary chairman of the Liberal Party she prefers to leave the simmering rift between the Atienza and Drilon factions to the actual party officers and members.

Bunye said Arroyo would rather focus in implementing economic and political reforms to strengthen the country. "The affairs of the Liberal Party are internal to the organization and although the President is its honorary chairman, she has no desire to intervene in the internal workings on the party. However, the President welcomes the revitalization of political parties as an essential step towards political stability and reforms," Bunye said.

The officers and members of LP are set to meet this morning at the Century Park hotel in a bid to settle the differences between the factions of Manila Mayor Lito Atienza and Senate President Franklin Drilon.

Atienza’s group is convening the party’s executive council and has invited Drilon’s camp to attend.

Drilon last week said Atienza and Presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor were considered expelled from the party for staging the March 2 election-coup where Atienza ousted Drilon as party president and Defensor took over Atienza’s old post as LP chairman.

The rift between the two factions started with Drilon’s withdrawal of support for President Arroyo on July 8, 2005, the same day 10 of her officials in Malacañang quit and held a press conference about their resignation at the Hyatt hotel at the height of the "Hello Garci’ controversy.

Atienza said Drilon took the step without consulting the other party members. – Jocelyn Montemayor

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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